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Crayfish carapace
And why the live ones are underground

Usually when I find them …

They are dead.

Fish, wading birds, otters and alligators eat crayfish

Crayfish enjoy algae, aquatic bugs and small fish

Crayfish holes can extend 3 feet deep (so I’ve read)

But wherever I find them there is usually also ample evidence that they are alive, in the form of tiny tunnels that wormhole out of sight into the marl where often but not always the water table can still be seen. It sort of reminds me of how alligators wallow out water holes, but on a smaller scale.

That brings me back to finding them dead. I’ve never been pinched by a crayfish, but I have been pinched by a blue crab, and yes that hurt. But who could blame the crab: Being a Marylander, I’ve eaten dozens of them in a single sitting, and probably over a thousand my entire life. Or in other words, I deserved to get pinched.

Crayfish are the base of the food chain

Meanwhile in another part of the glades, there’s a patch of peat that is completely bereft of crayfish holes. The reason? The amplitude between summer wet season water depths and the spring dive of the water table below the ground is too great. The culprit is a nearby canal and levee called the L-28 Interceptor. The good news is that there’s a plan to fill the canal in and take the levee out. The result? While the future is always uncertain and there are no guarantees, my hope is more crayfish holes, even if when I find them they are always dead.

A carapace in the hand is worth two underground. (Not sure if the final catch line works … but you know what I mean.)

Swamp or glades gator?
And how to tell the difference

To the undiscerning eye …

This probably looks like a glades gator.

As seen in the southeast corner of Big Cypress Nat’l Preserve

The dead giveaway is the open river of grass and the tree islands in distance (looking south), right? And for anyone who lives in the swamp (not many), they know that Big Cypress gators typically make their home a circular-shaped cypress dome or a linear swale of cypress called a strand. However, on technicality, the gator shown in the photo above is officially ruled a swamp gator for the reason its alligator hole is located in the southeast corner of Big Cypress National Preserve. That being said, I wouldn’t rule out him having cousins on the glades sides of the dotted line.

flood and fire

Water and fire
On the same day

If you ask the swamp point blank:

“What’s your preference — water or fire?”

Water in the swamp

Fire in the swamp

Not that the swamp’s greedy, but it will say “both.” The swamp, you see, is a flood and fire adapted ecosystem. Every square inch of flora and fauna depends on a goldilocks dosage and return interval of flood and fire on the landscape. Just as important is the balance between the two. Preferred patchy burns result when the water table is close to the surface and water is still ponding in the lowest spots. And water needs fire to open up foraging grounds for wading birds to opportunistically exploit. Getting the fire right means getting the water right and getting the fire and water right means getting the ecosystem right.

ecology

Sea of cypress domes
And why no two are the same

Cypress trees usually come to mind …

When people think about the Big Cypress Swamp.

Cypress domes in Big Cypress National Preserve

But for me it’s more specific: I tend to think of the cypress domes (and strands). The domes are circular and too many to count. Well, you could probably count them, but it would hard to keep track for the reason they are all unnamed. But don’t mistake that with them all being the same. What appear hill-like from a distance turn into a shallow bowl as your approach, full of a labyrinth of cypress knees, fluted trunks, and fallen logs that require you to watch each and every step until finally you reach the sunlit central destination point: a circular marsh and/or orchid-hiding pond apple and pop ash trees, and usually an alligator hole perhaps at a willow head.

An unnamed cypress strand in Big Cypress National Preserve

As for the cypress strands, unlike the domes most of them are named, but not in all cases as the one above. And I’m not saying there aren’t two perfectly identical doppelganger domes or strands out there. I’m just saying I haven’t found one yet. The search continues.

animation switch short

Follow the rainbow
A pot of gold awaits

Sometimes in south Florida …

You simply have to ignore the month.

Looking north towards I-75 Alligator Alley

Technically speaking, we should be bearing down (and scarfing up) in preparation for a deep polar freeze (or two). Well, at least not yet. So far this December, the weather has been closer to the hot and humid summer pattern of pop-up showers and copious morning fog. How thick is that fog? Thick enough to make pea soup seem transparently thin. The commute ride into work, for those that have been doing it, has been a white knuckle ride with 300 ft visibility. On the good side, there’s the mid afternoon rainbow as seen above. At 1,000 feet above the ground, the air temperature is also delightfully cool.